7 Principles for Giving and Receiving Feedback Effectively

Oftentimes how feedback is given and received is as important as the content of the feedback (the ‘what‘). Here are 7 principles for handling feedback that can help ensure its effective.

When receiving feedback: Listen
• Don’t talk (really!) until you’ve heard the other person out.
• Even if what’s being said is hard for you to hear, try to stay engaged, maintaining eye contact.
• Don’t deny, deflect, or defend.

When receiving feedback: Ask Questions
• To gain clarity and understanding about why they’re coming to you.
• To show the other person that you’re listening, that you really want to “get it.”
• To slow yourself down, buy yourself some time.

When receiving feedback: Recognize all the choices you have
• You can own none of the content—“Thank you for coming to me, but I just don’t agree with you. I will think about what you said, though.”
• You can own some of the content—“I don’t agree with your perspective about the staff meeting. But I agree that I sometimes interrupt people, and I’ll work on that.”
• You can own all of what they said—“I’m sorry I didn’t come through on that project and I see how much that frustrated you. I’ll try not to let it happen again.”
• You can ask for more time—“I need some time to think about this. I’ll think about what you said and touch base with you on Monday.” If you choose this option, it’s very important that you get back to the person.

When receiving feedback: Thank the person who gave it (they didn’t have to)

When giving feedback: Ask permission
• Don’t spring it on them.
• Say something like, “Would it be alright if I gave you some feedback?”

When giving feedback: Be aware of time
• Give yourself plenty of time—don’t decide to have a conversation like this right before you’re headed into a meeting or expecting an important phone call. If a more routine conversation turns into something like this, you can say, “I can tell we need more time to talk about this, but I don’t have the time right now. When can we continue this conversation?”

When giving feedback: Be aware of place
• If the feedback is very sensitive in nature and the group does not have a norm of giving feedback within the group, arrange a one-on-one conversation in a private, comfortable place.
• If the group has established a norm of giving feedback within the group, phrase your feedback using specific “I” language: “I’ve been frustrated with you during this meeting, Tim, because I don’t sense you’re really listening to me.”

When giving feedback: Make an appointment
• The best-case scenario is to look for a time when neither of you are busy and approach them right then. That way, you don’t have to make a negative appointment.
• If you have to make an appointment, don’t say, “Next week I want to talk to you about something.” They will worry for a week. Say, “I’d like us to talk sometime soon, and it’s about _______________. I don’t want you to worry about it, but I expect it might be a hard conversation. When can we meet?”


Use anger, force or rudeness Stay connected relationally
Talk in generalities (“You don’t treat me well”) Be specific
Talk about character (“You’re rude”) or what’s in their head (“You think you’re special”) Talk about behaviors and the impact those behaviors have on you
Say “always” or “never” or exaggerate. Say “sometimes” or “often”
Bring in the opinions of others Speak for yourself
Use notes and email Talk person to person
Be too quick or wait too long Be moderately immediate
Talk too much As questions, listen, be open